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COLLEGES : Scholar excellence : UCLA

Championship focus

April 27, 2014|James Barragan
  • UCLA outfielder Brian Carroll, is a star on the field and in the classroom for the Bruins. He was a Pac-12 All-Academic selection last season.
UCLA outfielder Brian Carroll, is a star on the field and in the classroom… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

The NCAA and its member institutions often refer to "student-athletes," but the front side of the term isn't often highlighted in a sports section. We asked officials from the Southland's 10 Division I universities to point us toward their best and brightest -- the teams that made classroom performance a priority. Eight of the schools chose to participate and here is what we found:


Most college students are busy memorizing study terms, learning how to prove complicated mathematical theorems or writing term papers during finals week.

But members of the UCLA men's baseball and women's soccer teams had an additional task -- and a substantial one at that -- to complete during their final exams: winning a national championship.

UCLA's baseball team traveled to Omaha for the College World Series three days into the school's final exams week last June. Within three days of landing, they had administered 26 exams.

Adding to the pressure, some players were balancing finals, a college baseball championship run and the Major League Baseball draft.

"Three major happenings in their lives that really can change their lives going on at the same time," said Coach John Savage, whose team won UCLA's first baseball national championship by defeating Mississippi State. "It just says a lot about their mental capacity and their focus and separation between school and competing on the field."

Ryan Deeter, a relief pitcher, said it was hard to steer clear of distractions.

"You've got all these ceremonies and festivities that you want to go to, but you have to stay inside," he said. "The first five days I was stuck studying for finals."

After long practices and games, the last thing he wanted to do was study, he added, but the Bruins were rewarded for their focus.

The women's soccer team had an equally hectic schedule.

Eighteen players took finals in 10 courses during the week and a half they competed at the College Cup in North Carolina -- including an oral presentation conducted via Skype. Four of the tests were administered the day before the championship game against Florida State.

Sarah Killion, a junior midfielder, said the pressure of single-elimination competition made studying for finals more difficult. "It was stressful not knowing whether or not we were staying in North Carolina another week," she said, "because that was the deciding factor in whether or not I was going to have to have [exams] proctored or not."

Killion used Skype -- an online video service -- to complete the oral presentation section of her psychology final.

Even after their triumph over the Seminoles in the title game, the Bruins had little time to celebrate. Ten of the team's players were still on the hook for exams the following day.

"We won the national championship on a Sunday, so that Monday we had three different flights getting back in order for the girls to get back for their tests," said Coach Amanda Cromwell. "Everyone kind of scattered like the wind because they had plans to go home."

Despite the pressure, the coaches said their players were unfazed by taking important exams and playing in big games at the same time.

The baseball team has 13 students on the athletic director's honor roll; the women's soccer team has 18.

"They know what's at stake," Savage said. "They just really do a good job of separating academics and athletics."


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